2013 was an odd year for burgers. From beef patties nestled between pan-fried ramen noodle "buns," waffles, and deep-fried dough of various descriptions, to quirky fast-food mashups made with everything on the menu, keeping up with all of the weird and wacky developments of the burger world gave our eyebrows a real workout (and, in some cases, made our stomachs queasy).
Fortunately, there was also some great news to report, namely Shake Shack's decision to ditch their frozen fries in favor of fresh-cut spuds. Scroll down to see our year-end report on the biggest burger news and trends of 2013.
Weird Burger Buns
2013 was the year of the burger bun. Specifically, weird and wacky alternatives like pan-fried ramen noodles, waffles, cronuts, and doughnuts. Ramen burgers took off when ramen blogger Keizo Shimamoto debuted his creation, dubbed the Shoyu Ramen Burger, at Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. It didn't take long for other restaurants to take notice and roll out their own ramen burgers, from Raki Raki in San Diego to Andrea's in Las Vegas. Want to try one at home? Check out this recipe from The Burger Lab.
We also tried a waffle burger in San Diego, a doughnut burger in Chicago, and are still breathing a collective sigh of relief that no AHT contributor was harmed by the cronut burger incidentthat sickened nearly 100 people at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.
Chains Launch Disappointing New Burgers
TGI Friday's spent two years developing their new line of double patty Stacked Burgers, made with two fresh, 3.6-ounce beef patties with toppings below, in-between, and on top of the beef. If you're a burger purist or concerned with high calorie counts, these new burgers are the stuff of nightmares. Take the 1,470-calorie "Philly Stacked Burger" as an example. It's overloaded to the point of insanity, with braised shredded beef, mozzarella, Asiago-Parmesan spread, roasted cremini mushrooms, spicy giardiniera, and green onion between the patties, plus Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, horseradish spread, onion bacon jam, and peppered bacon on top and below the beef.
By comparison, Olive Garden's new Italiano Burger is downright tame. Topped with crisp Italian prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, marinated tomatoes, and aioli, it had the potential to be tasty, but since the patty I sampled for a review was cremated beyond recognition, it too was a bust.
Wild Game Burgers
Beef will always be a popular choice for burgers, but several restaurants continued to introduce wild game and exotic meat patties as an alternative. Among the examples: Slater's 50/50 debuted the 'Roo Burger (a 50/50 blend of bacon and kangaroo), Burger Lounge re-launched their "Game Changer" series of grass-fed game burgers (wild boar, venison, and elk), and Richard Blais' Flip Burger Boutique rolled out a venison burger for the month of December (run, Rudolph!)
Shake Shack Expands, Introduces New Fries
Shake Shack replaced their frozen fries with fries cooked from fresh hand-cut potatoes, much to the delight of Ed, our Fearless Leader, who was so irked by the frozen fries, AHT founder Adam Kuban once referred to them as his white whale. The fresh-cut spuds earned Kenji's stamp of approval, who called them "salty, crispy, and intensely potato-ey" in his review.
In other Shake Shack news, the NYC-based chain will open a new location at 92 Winthrop Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts (map), in early January, with additional locations in Winter Park, Florida, Austin, and Las Vegas opening by the end of 2014.
Debut of the World's First Lab-Grown Burger
After five years of development, the world's first-ever lab-grown burger was revealed. The five-ounce patty was made of nearly 20,000 strands of meat, seasoned with salt, egg powder, and bread crumbs, and colored with red beet juice and saffron. At the tasting event in London, it was pan-fried in sunflower oil and butter. While cultured beef might not be available commercially for 10 to 20 years, Dr. Mark Post, the Dutch researcher who created the hamburger at the University of Maastricht, hopes it will lead to more financing and research for lab-grown meat as a way to provide a high-quality protein source to a growing global population, while at the same time, addressing the environmental impact and animal welfare issues of conventional livestock production.
Oh Burger King, When Will You Learn?
Burger King continued its strategy of releasing a whack of limited-time items, probably hoping the novelty factor would intrigue and entice new (and returning) customers. The problem, as with most grub the King serves up, is nothing was all that great. In April, we checked out the glazed doughnut holes (blech) and four new burgers (meh), followed by an absolutely embarrassing burger topped with french fries, a Big Mac clone denounced as a "Whopper of a disappointment", and the new lower-fat, crinkle-cut "Satisfries" that were exciting only because they didn't completely suck. We're still waiting for BK to address the real problem: those gristly, fake smoke flavored patties.
Link Bait Burger Stunts
Bloggers had some fun building silly stunt burgers, like the one made with everything on the McDonald's dollar menu (by Thrillist) and the "McEverything" burger, a tower of all 43 McDonald's sandwiches—one of every kind available, including the breakfast sandwiches—that was stacked and skewered by Nick of Dude Foods. Not to be outdone, Epic Mealtime created a S'mores Burger and a Chinese Food Burger (among other insane experiments).